Welcoming the rabbit

Updated: 2011-01-28 13:20

(China Daily European Weekly)

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Making the most of custom and commerce

By Thana Poopat

In Thailand, the Chinese New Year has become an unabashed public display of Chinese identity among Thais of Chinese descent as well as a mainstream, highly commercialized event. Department stores rake it in with their special sale promotions as shoppers awash with cash from hong bao (red packets) make a big splurge.

The ushering in of the new year in the Chinese calendar is considered an unofficial public holiday when small to medium-sized businesses owned by Chinese-Thais, who together form the backbone of the Thai economy, close for at least three days.

Prasit Ongwatana, chief organizer of this year's Yaowaraj Chinatown's new year celebrations, says as in previous years, Her Royal Highness Princess Chakri Sirindhorn, a well-known Sinophile, will preside over the Feb 3 opening ceremony of the two-day street festival.

"Chinese-Thais have become so well integrated in society that we no longer feel embarrassed or self-conscious celebrating the new year," Prasit says.

"As a living community that is as old as the 229-year-old Bangkok, Chinatown residents on Yaowaraj Road take pride in our strict adherence to the authentic ancient Chinese customs, characterized by elaborate ceremonies, which have largely been forgotten in the Old Country."

But according to Viroj Tangvarnich, an expert on Chinese culture, not every Chinese-Thai has the time or inclination to stay true to religious or cultural observance.

"It is not uncommon these days to see Chinese New Year food offerings (to gods and ancestors) that consist of, say, KFC fried chicken or store-bought pork jerky instead of the auspicious fares of chicken, pig's head and whatnots.

"Times have changed. Whatever today's people like to eat is considered fit as offerings to the gods and ancestors. What really count are good intentions."

Thana Poopat is a Bangkok-based writer for China Daily Asia Weekly.


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